Eating Disorder Awareness week is upon us, and like many other mental illnesses eating disorders are cloaked by a thick mist of myths, misconceptions and stereotypes.
I developed disordered eating when I was 14, after falling ill with Depression and Anxiety. Unfortunately, I lost control and went on to develop a full blown eating disorder, which quickly took over my life. It wasn't picked up by many people, and so it went untreated whilst I received treatment for Depression and Anxiety. I was admitted to a psychiatric unit when I started developing the early stages of Psychosis at the age of 16. It wasn't until I was discharged from hospital that my eating took a turn for the worst.
I became completely obsessed with calories, how many calories I ate, how many calories I burnt off, how many calories different foods contained, the net number of calories I had everyday... etc. I believed that eating anything would instantly make me fat, and I viewed calories like poison. At my worst I believed people were trying to sneak calories into my food, so I only ate food I made myself. I would make myself sick to expel calories from my body.
I over-exercised because I feared that the small amount of food I did eat would cause me to pack on pounds of fat. I probably spent more time in the school gym than in lessons during that time. I would wait until my family were asleep and then exercise until early hours of the morning.
During that time I also discovered Diet pills. To begin with I bought a packet of one variety, but after a while I bought more, and I bought other types. At any one time I was taking on average about 5 different types of diet pills. Most of which where un-supervised and didn't come under any regulatory boards. But that didn't matter to me, because all I cared about was the words 'weight loss' written in large writing across the packets. I later found out that the pills were mostly caffeine, I calculated that I was consuming an estimated 9 grams of pure caffeine, the equivalent of 45 cups of strong coffee a day.
Obviously I couldn't maintain those behaviours, my body couldn't cope with lack of food, exhaustion, and ridiculous quantities of caffeine. My hair was falling out, my nails cracked and turned yellow, I had symptoms of caffeine overdose, like dizziness, chest pains, fast/irregular heart beat, uncontrollable muscle movements, hallucinations, and confusion. I was constantly freezing cold, my hands and feet were blue, I was constantly dizzy and tired. I collapsed on my bathroom floor one day.
When I woke I realised that I was slowly killing myself, I had lost control and if I didn't start fighting I would end up in hospital with a tube up my nose feeding me 3000 calories in liquid form. I have been in recovery from that moment onwards.
I did not choose to have an eating disorder, I did not choose to fear food and fat. Eating disorders are illnesses not choices, and the science backs that up.
Eating disorders are not fad diets that people participate in when they feel a little self concious, they are serious, life threatening illnesses.
Neither are eating disorders a fashion trend for western women, eating disorders don't discriminate and are not pretty, or fashionable. In fact, I looked absolutely awful during the time I suffered, I genuinely looked like a zombie.
Men get Eating Disorders too, in fact, eating disorder charity Beat estimates that 15-20% of people with eating disorders are men.
Eating Disorders are not just about having a low body weight. A low body weight is just a side effect of one type of eating disorder. A lot of people with eating disorders have what's considered a healthy body weight, some have a body weight above what's considered healthy, but still suffer a considerable amount with this terrible type of mental illness.
Recovery is not simply about eating more. Recovery is about tackling the underlying beliefs and disordered thinking behind the behaviours, recovery is about fighting everyday against something with so much power that it has kept you a prisoner for however long. Recovery is a journey, and in my opinion, does not necessarily mean getting rid of those thoughts and feelings, it's about learning to take control and not letting the thoughts and feelings ruin your life.
I did not choose to fall ill with Anorexia Nervosa, but I did choose to recover. I worked hard and I kept tacking steps forward, no matter how small. I had relapses and I felt like giving up most of the time, but I kept going. Over time I gained the control, over time I grew stronger.
I am now able to enjoy the foods I love, I am able to enjoy family meals, I am physically healthy and I can participate in the things I love doing like Campaigning, writing and outdoor activities. I do still get the thoughts, and when difficult things happen those feelings creep back, but I have the skills to stop my eating disorder in it's tracks, I have the control and I have no intention on giving it back to my eating disorder.
For more information on eating disorders check out Beat's website;